Compiled by David Kaplan and Michael Wright

Politician wants to renew legislation to ban green lasers:
Blinded by the light: Who is shining laser pointers into planes over N.J.?
12 planes hit by blinding lasers in N.J. among dozens targeted in U.S. in one night:

Astronomy meets the blues: When I Look into the Night Sky by Lori Henriques

“I know that I am mortal by nature and ephemeral, but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies … I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.” ~Ptolemy

The flyby of Pluto was a triumph of human ingenuity and the capstone of a mission that unfolded nearly flawlessly. It almost did not happen. NYTimes

The NYTimes says the New Horizons flyby ends an era of planetary exploration. I don’t think so. It ended with the Voyager flyby of Neptune. We just did not know it. Maybe this flyby begins an era of Kuiper belt object exploration? ~Mike

Extraordinary lunar astrophotography by Paolo Lazzarotti National Geographic

Don’t miss NYTimes’ Summer of Science

Space video cameras to circle globe: Canadian group Urthecast plans to put a 16-satellite constellation in orbit to image the Earth, including making small movies of what is happening at the surface of the planet. BBC

Volcanic eruptions glimpsed on Venus: Scientists say they have the best evidence yet that there is hot lava spewing from the surface of Venus. BBC

Recently discovered galaxy, CR7, holds the signature of a lost generation of stars that created the elements needed for life. NYTimes

Philae comet lander wakes up: the Philae lander which lost power after historic comet landing has woken up and contacted Earth – European Space Agency BBC

Earth enters new extinction phase: The Earth has entered a “new period of extinction”, a study by three US universities concludes, and humans could be among the first casualties. BBC

Ceres’ spots seen in more detail: NASA releases a new, higher-resolution picture of the brightest spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. BBC

Aiming to make the first portrait of the hungry monster at the center of our galaxy, astronomers built a telescope as big as the world. NYTimes

HST studies Pluto’s wobbly moons: Hubble reveals fascinating new details about Pluto’s four smaller moons – Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. BBC

Does science always need empirical evidence?  NYTimes

Green light for Magellan super-scope: Construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope receives the go-ahead, leading to preliminary operations in 2021 or 2022. BBC

Hadron collider turns on data tap: the Large Hadron Collider has re-started scientific investigations after a two-year pause. BBC

Black hole seen ‘playing billiards': a series of images captures two vast blobs of plasma, shot out by a black hole, cannoning into each other in a nearly light-speed cosmic collision. BBC

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From the Director

by Rex Parker, PhD, Director





Tuesday June 9 (7:30 pm) at the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium will be the last regular monthly meeting of the season. You are welcome to bring family and friends for our gathering at the Planetarium, at 205 West State Street in the capitol area of Trenton. AAAP member and Planetarium staffer Bill Murray will give us a private show (no charge) using the state-of-the-art “Full DomeVideo” technology which immerses the audience within images covering the entire dome.

The meeting continues the tradition of AAAP sharing the vision of the Planetarium to bring astronomy experiences to the public. After the show, we’ll review club plans for summer observing activities at the Washington Crossing Observatory, and discuss the upcoming Cherry Springs State Park astronomy observing field trip (see below).

Officers and Committees. At the May meeting, a new Board of Trustees was elected to lead the club in the next season. I would like to congratulate and thank my colleagues on the Board: Assistant Director Larry Kane, Program Chair Ira Polans, Secretary Jim Poinsett, and Treasurer Michael Mitrano. Deep appreciation goes to former Program Chair Kate Otto for bringing in so many good speakers the last three years, and thanks to Prasad Ganti and John Miller who form the new Program Committee with Ira. Thanks also to continuing Outreach Chair Dave Letcher, and Observatory Co-chairs Gene Ramsey and Dave Skitt, along with Jennifer Skitt, John Church, and the Keyholders for improving the observatory and running our weekly public observing operations.

Upcoming Events

  • June 2: Mallincam training for Keyholders at WC Observatory
  • June 13: Members-only night at Washington Crossing Observatory (family & friends are welcome too) including unveiling the Mallincam astro-video, a new Paramount for the Hastings refractor, and two new telescopes. Please join us at the Observatory beginning after sunset to see what the excitement is all about.
  • June 19-20: Observing weekend at Cherry Springs State Park in northern PA, a remarkable dark sky site. Arrive Friday before sunset, return Sunday.

Astronomy Observing Field Trip to Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania, June 19-20.  This will be the dark sky observing event of the year! Plan for both Friday and Saturday nights, June 19 and 20. The trip is contingent on good weather and sky conditions to be decided the week of the event.  We don’t have a backup date at this time.

The park is situated at 2300 ft elevation deep in the wild forests of north-central PA.  It has some of the darkest and best skies for astronomy in the entire eastern U.S.  All interested AAAP members are invited to attend, but please understand that this will be a “roughing it” type trip.  We will happily offer telescope viewing access and share knowledge of the celestial sphere to members and family/friends,  attendees must provide their own transportation, equipment and supplies including tent, sleeping bag, food and drink.  Please read carefully the information on the Cherry Springs State Park website:

Pennsylvania State Parks
Serious Stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park

It’s about a 5 hour drive from Princeton (important – see recommended directions, below).  You must arrive well before dark to set up even if you don’t have a telescope (i.e., setting up tents etc).  White flashlights or other white lights on or near the observing field are strictly prohibited.  Red flashlights are accepted and are a necessary item.  It’s important to understand there are essentially no amenities except for 110V AC electrical plug-ins and concrete telescope pads.  You must bring all of your own supplies, tents and camping equipment, food and drinks, etc. Water for washing dishes is supplied at several pumps located around the site. There are modern bathroom facilities and sinks, but no showers at Cherry Springs State Park, and the nearest showers are at Lyman Run State Park about 10 miles down the road. Those are good private showers with hot water. There are no motels or restaurants nearby. Some have complained about the taste of the water available at the site; fracking is done in the area. The water is fine for washing but if you care about this point, it is recommended that you bring drinking water with you.

Be ready for dew at Cherry Springs. If the sky is clear there will be dew, probably more dew than you have ever seen. Everyone should have dew heaters and/or “hair dryers” for their scopes. Dew shields are useful but not enough. Bring an extension cord as well.

Directions. The directions given on the Cherry Springs Star Party website are not the best. They will take you through ~50 miles of unpaved logging roads to get to Cherry Springs State Park. It has been suggested by observers from recent years that the best way to get there is the following.

  • Take the PA Turnpike (276) to the NE Extension (476 northbound)
  • Continue on NE Extension (476) to I-80W
  • Go west on I-80W to I-180N (beltway around Williamsport, PA)
  • Take I-180N to Rte 15N
  • Follow Rte 15N to Rte 6W
  • Go west on Rte 6W to Galeton, PA
  • Get off Rte 6 at Galeton. It’s then about 15 miles of paved back roads to Cherry Springs (Mapquest or GPS will give a route).
  • There is a local-detail map on the park website.

Please respond by e-mail if you plan to make the trip ( I look forward to having you join us at Cherry Springs!  

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Annual Planetarium Show – June 9

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

AAAP member Bill Murray will once again host the AAAP’s last program of the season on June 9th at the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium. Members will gather at 7:30 for a private show. Friends and family are welcome. Free parking and easy access to the Planetarium is available. After the show, there will be a meeting to review the AAAP’s summer activities.

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

May saw the AAAP table turn up at two events. At the first event, Super Science Saturday in Trenton, our club was represented by Gene Ramsey, Jennifer and Dave Skitt and myself, as custodian of the club’s table banner. Even though the day started with rain, it did stop. Lots of people turned out to talk to us and take free literature offered by Astronomy Magazine and the AAAP. Despite the continuing cloud cover that thwarted our efforts to view the Sun, everyone that came to our table went away pleased and more knowledgeable about the AAAP.

The second event, sponsored by the Washington Crossing Park Association, was a Walk in the Park with George. At this one, our club was represented by Gene Ramsey, my wife Marlene and yours truly. While the focus of the gathering was more historical than astronomical, the AAAP was recognized by the WCPA, as a supporting group with an established relationship of mutual interests. Gene was able to show General Washington what sun spots look like in a telescope. Many of the attendees who knew a lot about our park, left with a new understanding of our club and our observatory.

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Treasurer’s Report

by Michael Mitrano, Treasurer

New memberships and renewals have tapered off, but hopefully the summer public nights will bring us more new members. Our count now stands at 88.

With the purchase of additional equipment to improve the observatory, we are now showing a $1,300 loss for the fiscal year to date. Since we account for the cost of new equipment when it is purchased rather than using accrual accounting to depreciate it over time, we will show a loss in a year when we use some of our reserves to invest in the facility.

On a cumulative basis, the AAAP’s surplus is slightly below $24 thousand.

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Minutes of the May 2015 AAAP Annual Meeting

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • Meeting called to order by Rex at 7:30
  • Rex introduced the slate of officers nominated for the 2015/2016 meeting year, a motion to accept the slate was made and seconded. The officers were approved unanimously.
  • Rex explained the expenditures needed to complete the new video observation equipment needed at the observatory, (computers, cables, monitor, new boards for Paramount mounts and TheSky 10 software). A $5000 proposal was presented to the membership. A motion was made and seconded, the membership approved the expense unanimously.
  • Ira introduced the speaker for the evening, Dr. Tim Morton. His lecture was entitled “The Astonishing Diversity of Planetary Systems”.
  • There will be a club trip to Cherry Springs park in Pennsylvania on June 19th and 20th.
  • The June meeting will be at the planetarium at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. Bill Murray will present the latest show.
  • Gene showed the club the donated eyepieces and explained that they will be kept at the observatory for member use. There still needs to be some decisions made on the other donated equipment and a side-by-side comparison of the two C14’s.
  • Bill Murray was able to obtain a new 55mm eyepiece for the refractor, replacing the current one that is deteriorating.
  • There was an attempted break-in at the observatory. The lock hasp needed replacing. More security measures may be considered.
  • The gate issues at the observatory have been worked out. There are six teams with six members on each. The observatory chairs will organize member training on the new equipment.
  • The public will be driving all the way in on observing nights and should be directed to park at the nature center.
  • The programs committee is soliciting ideas for speakers for the coming year.
  • There will be solar observing at the observatory on Memorial Day weekend.
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by David Kaplan

Time is more ancient
Than the stars.
It is a dimension.
A silent perpetual
Motion machine.

Time is unforgiving.
Verdict and sentence
Are handed down to both
The guilty and the innocent.

Time is without obstruction.
In its headlong drive, it births
Evolution, yet limits life.

Time is insurmountable.
A semi-transparent wall of memories,
Distorted under the weight of age.

Time is change.
Time is impermanence.

Time stops not for an unwound clock.

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Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System

by S. Prasad Ganti

Recently, the committee on a Strategy to Optimize the U.S. Optical and Infrared System (OIR) in the Era of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) came up with set of recommendations. This is a summary of the draft version of the report. I organized the summary in form of notes and conclusions and recommendations. Each paragraph is marked accordingly.

NOTES:  The committee’s highest priority is a U.S. OIR System that is well coordinated and facilitates broad access to do the best science. An integrated OIR System can do the best science when it engages a broad population of astronomers to pursue a diversity of science and scientific approaches.

NOTES:  But why OIR region? Setting aside the cosmic microwave background radiation, most of the radiation in the universe is starlight, and the infrared background is largely radiation from dust heated by stars. X-ray astronomers and radio astronomers need to know what kind of optical and infrared light is associated with their sources to understand their nature. A growing trend in astronomical research is the synergy between observations with different telescopes and instruments in the study of astrophysical phenomena. This includes coordinated use of multiple ground-based OIR facilities with complementary capabilities, use of OIR facilities in combination with ground based observations at other wavelengths, and use of OIR facilities in combination with space based facilities.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation should support the development of a wide-field, highly multiplexed spectroscopic capability on a medium or large aperture telescope in the Southern Hemisphere to enable a variety of science, including follow-up spectroscopy of LSST targets.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation (NSF) should continue to invest in the development of critical instrument technologies, including detectors, adaptive/active optics and precision radial velocity measurements. NSF should also use existing instrument and research programs to support small-scale exploratory programs that have the potential to develop transformative technologies.

NOTES:  Powerful science comes from combining space-based observations with data from the OIR system. In the 1990s, HST (Hubble Space Telescope) along with Keck, HET (Hobby-Eberly Telescope), Gemini, Magellan, and other large ground-based telescopes worked effectively to exploit these opportunities. In the 2020s, JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) along with LSST and other large telescopes and the GSMTs (Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes-Giant Magellan Telescope in Hawaii and Thirty Meter Telescope in Chile) will combine to solve a new set of cosmic mysteries. Along with ESO’s (European Southern Observatory) 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in Chile, will revolutionize OIR astronomy by achieving angular resolution and depth far beyond current telescopes.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation should plan for an investment in one or both Giant Segmented Mirror Telescopes to capitalize on these observatories’ exceptional scientific capabilities for the broader astronomical community in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope era, such as through shared operations costs, instrument development, or limited partnerships in telescope or data access or science projects.

NOTES:  While the field of astronomy is driven by the existence of state-of-the-art facilities for collecting photons from astronomical sources, the pursuance of research in astronomy, and in particular the physical understanding of astronomical phenomena, requires software, analysis techniques, scientific interpretation, theoretical work, and numerical simulations.

CONCLUSION:  Making effective use of petabyte-scale databases (“big data”) requires new skills, and the astronomical community working in this area needs to continue to develop algorithms and procedures for data processing and analysis to take advantage of the next generation of data sets.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation should help to support the development of event brokers, which should use standard formats and protocols, to maximize LSST transient survey follow-up work.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation (NSF) should support a coordinated suite of schools, workshops, and training networks run by experts to train the future generation of astronomers and maintain instrumentation, software, and data analysis expertise.

RECOMMENDATION:  A data archive that is publicly accessible and well curated is a commendable central goal for every major survey from a public or private facility.

RECOMMENDATION:  The National Science Foundation should ensure via a robustly organized U.S. OIR System that a fraction of the its observing time be allocated for rapid, faint transient observations prioritized by an Large Synoptic Survey Telescope event broker system so that high-priority events can be efficiently and rapidly targeted.

My two cents is that with the coming of an era of more powerful telescopes, both on ground and in space, strategizing to make the best use of the telescopes and giving a boost to the accompanying technologies augurs well for astronomy in US.

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Compiled  by David Kaplan and Michael Wright

Galaxies die by slow ‘strangulation’ – A study suggests that when most galaxies stop forming stars, this death is a slow process that gradually chokes them of the necessary cool gases. BBC

The Quiet Zone: Where mobile phones are banned – Two-hundred miles west of Washington DC lies the National Radio Quiet Zone – 13,000 square miles of radio silence. What is it for and how long will it survive? BBC

New Horizons Dust Counter – An instrument built at the University of Colorado is analyzing space dust for the remnants of colliding objects to learn more about our solar system.  NYTimes

World Science Festival – Brian Greene, the physicist and a festival founder, and Alan Alda, a board member, hope to awaken a love of science in the non-academic public. NYTimes

Celestial Vault – The astronomical optical illusion/art installation in the Hague known as the Celestial Vault is a curious place that is equal parts Druidic stone altar and stark modern landscaping which allows those willing to interact with it a chance to see the heavens in a new way. Atlas Obscura

Roden Crater – The artist James Turrell is repurposing an extinct volcano crater as an observatory to experience the cosmos. Atlas Obscura

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